Questions and Reform Jewish Answers

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So we need to deal with our students where they are. Second, all language about God is metaphorical.

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If we call God Healer, or Peacemaker, or even Father, it is because these words are a metaphor for some aspect of God that we are keying into at that moment. Younger children are more likely to use concrete language to represent abstract concepts, which means that it is our job to point out that no description can capture what God really is. Educating about God is on some level a gradual process of teaching what metaphor is, and how it applies to talking about God, as well as creating an environment that engages with profound and ultimate questions about our lives and our world.

What might be another view? I might not have thought of that. There is more to prayer than asking God for favors. This suggests that even when prayers end with God, they begin with us. We know that it can often change us. Prayer reinforces values and creates community. In addition, prayer acknowledges that human beings, at least individually, are not the most powerful force in the universe. In other words, prayer helps keep us humble! Prayer gives us an opportunity to deepen our spiritual lives, to increase our connection with God and to notice spiritual moments when they occur.

Prayer is a spiritual practice that helps us become more aware of what we are thankful for, and what we are longing for. Prayer also keeps us linked to our history. When we say the Shabbat kiddush over the wine, for instance, we are saying much the same prayers that our ancestors have said in the same situation for nearly two thousand years. That is a very powerful connection. And lastly, prayer is a way that we can come together as communities. In times of celebration, or in trying times, we look to our community for group support.

During the silent Amidah the entire congregation faces the same direction and prays together soundlessly, as individuals but in a group —this is truly a moment that expresses the intimacy of community. By praying together we share sacred time, connect with other Jewish communities around the world, and best of all, we get to sing together! If you look closely at healing stories in the Bible, you will see the important role that humans play in the healing process. God is the source of healing, but it is human beings who initiate the call to healing.

Healing also may not mean the prevention of death or even suffering. Healing can come about when human dignity and love are increased in the face of pain.

The Bible stories are not so much teaching us how we should expect God to act, as they are teaching us the way people should act. We only have to look at the way a child heals from an injury to see the power of healing in the world. In the Book of Exodus, Miriam is healed after Moses prays for her. For us, praying for healing still helps, but not in such direct ways.

Prayer helps us to be thankful for what we have. Prayer helps the sick person know she is not alone. Prayer can help lift the spirits of a sick person, even if the prayer itself evokes feelings of anger, sadness, or helplessness. Almost every religion or culture puts itself at the center. During the period when the Bible was being written, the Israelites lived side-by-side with other peoples in the land of Canaan. These other peoples held religious ideas that were very different from what Judaism came to be — they believed in many gods, for instance, instead of one.

The Bible describes a time when the Israelite religion was becoming different from the religions of the neighboring peoples. Since the idea of God was such an important part of the Israelite religion, the Israelites used God to emphasize their message. In the Book of Jonah, God shows great concern for the people and creatures of Nineveh. Here a Jewish prophet is commanded to prophesy in order to save a non-Jewish people.

Reconstructionists believe that human beings were inspired to write the Bible in their quest for God. How God is portrayed in the Bible might serve to teach a lesson. For example, God is described in the Torah as an el kana — a jealous God. At the time the Bible was written, the idea of one God was new, and it was a different and difficult idea. The Canaanite neighbors of our people had elaborate and compelling rituals that used many different gods.

I was always told that God is not a person. Remember that human beings wrote the Bible and God became a character in the story because people love characters and stories. Also, showing God as intervening in human life was a way that the writers could show us that we should be involved in making the world better. The rabbis who interpreted the Bible had an important decision to make. Instead they took a different approach. Eventually we need to return to the question of what God is really like.

But the Bible may not be the best place to answer that question. Reconstructionism asserts that the Torah is a collection of history, stories and religious laws that was put together over hundreds and hundreds of years. Kaplan said that Torah was also the earliest diary of the Jewish people. The Torah has, over its thousands-year long history, become holy in the eyes of the Jewish people. No, not even if you look at the Torah stories literally: Moses heard the word of God, and then he had to write it down.

The act of writing the Torah occurred over a long time, and it is forever marked by the human hand. Sinai is a mythic moment when all the Jews of the past, present and future stand together to experience the deepest possible connection with each other and with God. The Torah never pretends to be a scientific document. The Torah is a religious and national peoplehood document.

Yet despite all that, the Torah is a valuable document.

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For another thing, Torah tells us what the people who wrote it considered important — their relationship to God, their ethics, their prophetic voice. Its importance is based on spiritual principles — Does it help us to live an ethical life now? Do its stories teach us something of human nature? Reconstructionists believe that the answer to these questions is, Yes! Remember that Reconstructionists say that Judaism evolves over time.

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That means that the way we worship today is very different from the way we worshipped , , or certainly 3, years ago. Way back at the beginning of Jewish history, the Jewish people worshipped by sacrificing animals. This was pretty common at the time; the Greeks and Romans used animal sacrifice in their prayers also. We can look at the parts of the Torah that deal with animal sacrifices as a history book, a description of how things were then.

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When the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people had to find a new way to worship. They stopped sacrificing animals and began to pray with words, in synagogues, and to observe events like Shabbat and holidays at home. These practices have continued to this day. To give only one example, the Torah says that Jews were to offer sacrifices on the three festival holidays of Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesah — we can take this to mean that these holidays are important and should be celebrated in special ways.

Does one need to be Jewish to be a good person? And how inspiring it is when we know that the Call is from the prophets and sages who preceded us. What a privilege to carry on the legacy! Anti-Semitism is a scourge in the world, and — as we have witnessed with the recent events in Europe and in Gaza — it is not going away. This is not the time to bunker up and wait for the next Hitler to rise up.

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It is the time to continue to make strides of connection to the greater world. In America we Jews have succeeded, in part, because we have integrated into the lifeblood of this country. We have not taken a back-seat, and have assumed places of power. Now is the time to continue our advocacy for the Jewish people and for Israel. What we can do about anti-Semitism is to vehemently defend our place in the world and in Israel. Recently, anti-Semitism has been hiding under the anti-Zionist or anti-Israel guise. Make no mistake, those who accuse Israel of genocide or who divest from companies who operate in Israel are dangerously walking the line of anti-Semitism and I am being generous.

And there are many who have condemned the Jewish presence in Israel. Our work is to be proud of who we are and work to destroy anti-Semitism in our midst. As you may have heard, the Ohio University student body president chose to sensationalize the popular ice bucket challenge designed to bring awareness and provide research funds for ALS and threw a bucket of blood over her head, demanding that OU, and its student body divest from Israel, calling Israel out as practicing genocide.

Thankfully, Sarah Weingarten, a Fairmount Temple grad and current OU student spoke out on her blog and wrote the following:. The student body president has no right telling Ohio University and its students to alienate their relations with Israeli affiliates.


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By saying this, she has also alienated Ohio University students who are Israeli, have family in Israel and are Jewish. Being Jewish cannot be done in a bubble. At its best, a synagogue-community provides support during good and bad times. This is evidenced by our amazing Caring Community here at Fairmount Temple, staffed by the incomparable Wendy Jacobson.

Unfortunately, the synagogue-community is often viewed as a consumer-oriented organism that provides a usury function for a price. Our mission is not to simply sustain ourselves, but to grow Jews and Judaism. Our goals are part of a longstanding chain of tradition that has been alive for almost 4, years. Yom HaShoah. Yom Kippur.